Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, November 28th, 2020

Will Kabul Have a Different and Unpolluted Winter This Year?

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Will Kabul Have a Different and Unpolluted Winter This Year?

Last year, after persistent public complaints and criticisms about air pollution in Kabul, the government established the High Commission for Combating Air Pollution. The commission was comprised of 13 government agencies such as ministries, municipalities and independent departments to reduce Kabul’s air pollution over the next four years. This commission and overall the National Environmental Protection Agency  was supposed to carry out fundamental plans for air pollution in Kabul but the ground fact shows no essential changes. The three responsible factors for air pollution such as high gas prices, irregularities in the supply of electricity and unpurified coal fuel still consider as polluting factors. Gas prices in Kabul markets have already reached around 60afs, power outages also increased in recent days with increase of cold weather and accordingly, the market for buying and selling of unrefined coal became as hot as the streets and roads of Kabul are full of high-tonnage coal trucks. Therefore, it seems that the Kabul citizens are not going to experience a different winter comparing to previous years when Kabul had gotten the position of most polluted city in the world.
The most important thing that the government, the High Commission for Combating Air Pollution and National Environmental Protection Agency had to do so far was to provide alternative coal fuel to the citizens. The basic alternative fuel is to provide continuous electricity and distribute cheap gas to citizens but this has not been done yet.  From now on, the people have both electricity shortage and high gas prices problem. Given these issues a large number of people have already purchased unpurified coal fuel for heating their houses in the winter season.
The people cannot afford to re-buy another type of fuel once they all satisfied their needs for the coming winter.  Therefore, it is high time for the government, especially for the High Commission of the Combating Air Pollution to declare their alternative plan as they were supposed to do so. However, they do not seem decisive to implement such strategic plan because recently, Amrullah Saleh, the first vice president, warned the responsible authorities to only enforce the owners of 603 high-rise buildings installs filters.
Although the decisive actions of the first vice president are admirable, we should not forget that the share of 603 buildings out of nearly 7 million populations who all depend on coal fuel will not bring big changes in air-pollutions. These types of small tactics were also applied in previous years, but did not produce satisfactory result. For example, last year many high rise buildings, public baths, factories, businesses and so on were prohibited from using coal fuel without filter but did not bring enough changes in quality of air pollution. Therefore, the reduction of air pollution in Kabul needs to alternative fuel.  For example, this is not very difficult for government to reduce the price of gas at for three months so all citizens use clean energy. Given the level of poverty and unemployment in the country, people are compelled to use coal fuel or other polluting energy when there is no affordable clean energy.
The next point which requires special attention of government is simultaneity of three issues: second wave of covid-19, freezing season and air-pollution. Hence, the dangers of air pollution in the coming winter are serious, especially to vulnerable group of people. The most vulnerable groups of people who are victimized by pollution are children who easily developed chest infection while the children belong to poor families are more vulnerable than others, especially those who need to collect garbage from dump yards for cooking and heating households. When daily we cross from Kabul River, there are always some children who carry a large bag collecting pieces of plastic, woods and paper for heating their households. These children are also exposed to heavy traffic fumes. According to health experts, they will have smaller lungs, unhealthy brain and will be more vulnerable to respiratory and heart diseases in their later years. So, if we ignore such issue now, it will act as a health time-bomb for the future, guaranteeing that hospital wards will overflow of wheezing people with hearts and lungs permanently damaged just by living in cities. The vast costs to the economy of caring for an increasingly infirm older population will have to be met later.
The last major point which needs to be highlighted is public awareness for how to deal with the air pollution in case the government and National Environmental Protection Agency fail to implement an effective strategy. The public media can introduce some tips and personal strategy such as decrease of outdoor activities, using masks, having proper healthy diet plan etc to minimize the health risks associated with pollutants. According to health experts, many of antioxidant compounds such as green tea and berries prevent from the destruction of vital cells of the body when it is inflicted by free radicals. Thus,  enough milk and zinc consumption as milk contains phosphorus, magnesium and calcium which neutralizes toxins and also regulates the excretion of urine, feces and pollutants while zinc reduce the absorption of heavy metals and increases lead excretion in polluted air, thereby it minimize the resisting time of these harmful compounds to the body. Likewise, protein products such as meat, poultry, fish, green peas, especially lentils and wheat germ are recommended by health experts. So, the public media can take serious part in public awareness.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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